Now for a total eclipse in Hampshire

Monday 6th December 2021

Fareham and Gosport’s much heralded 3.4 km busway, opened in April 2012, has just got a kilometre longer following yesterday’s opening of a southern extension taking it further down the former railway alignment between the towns.

Costing around £11 million it gives First Hampshire and Dorset’s Eclipse branded buses on routes E1 and E2 shorter journey times and improved punctuality by avoiding short sections of twisty residential roads in favour of a straight trajectory on the busway.

Three minutes have been shaved off the southbound end to end journey time – reducing from 38 minutes to 35 minutes, with just one minute saved northbound (38 to 37 minutes). It might not sound much but that’s not to be sniffed at making for an 8% southbound improvement and an overall 4% for a return journey. It all adds up on every journey, each and every day to a lot of time saved. After all, that’s how many road junction improvements used by motorists are justified, so why not a busway too.

Importantly the perception for passengers is of a much quicker ride.

As it is from yesterday.

The extension received approval for £7 million funding from the Government’s ‘National Productivity Investment Fund’ towards the overall cost in October 2017 helped by the undoubted success of the original section reportedly carrying 60% more passengers on the smart liveried buses dedicated to the service than had used the former routes which struggled on the parallel congested A32.

In November 2018 plans for the extension were significantly amended to avoid demolition of the bridge carrying Rowner Road over the old railway alignment where the extended busway now ends. Instead of a three-way junction at level, a successful bid to the Government’s ‘Transforming Cities Fund’ helped finance an alternative scheme which has kept the bridge in place. This has enabled the existing well used underpass for pedestrians and cyclists south of the newly extended busway to be retained without them needing to cross a busy road junction.

The following sequence of photographs looking south at the end of the newly extended busway shows the retained bridge (right) and the new slip road that’s been constructed to allow buses to access the busway…..

A bus turns off Rowner Road ready to head north along the new section of busway

The following photographs show the busway in its final stages of construction a few weeks ago during a sneak preview of the extension I had thanks to an exclusive trip as part of the Young Bus Managers conference kindly organised by First Bus with Hampshire County Council in October.

Heading south the old busway ended here with buses turning left. The first new stop, Oakdene, is just where the vehicle is parked.

It certainly looked and felt impressive as we glided along the very smooth newly surfaced road but as we journeyed south I did wonder how convenient the two new bus stops on the extended section of busway would be for residents living in the adjacent residential areas either side of the busway at that time being served by either the E1 or the E2, but not both, right by their front doors, as can be seen on the map below.

As it was until last Saturday.

So I took a ride on the newly extended busway’s first afternoon yesterday to see how the new set up looks from a passenger perspective.

Spoiler alert. It looks excellent.

The first stop Oakdene has easy access to adjacent housing both sides of the busway.
The second stop heading south is handy for the nearby leisure centre.

I got off and on at both the two new stops at Oakdene and the leisure centre and took a wander into the nearby housing areas. I also spoke to a few passengers getting on and off and all were pleased with the new extension. Combining both routes together making for a doubling of the frequency previously experienced more than makes up for a slightly longer walk to the stop.

The new bus stops have been kitted out to a similar style to the original ones with a shelter covering a bench seat, a real time information sign, a static departure list and a map showing the immediate neighbourhood with walking times – which I found to be very pessimistic, but then I didn’t dawdle as I walked around.

I noticed bus stops on the original section of busway sported a three seater outside the shelter as well as a totem pole showing a map of the adjacent area and an eclipse logo, but I guess the need for financial prudence meant these were not included in the new spec. I don’t think either will be missed.

Here’s one of the now disused bus stops previously served by route E2 and suitably annotated explaining the new arrangements from yesterday….

And here’s a view taken from that bus stop showing the short distance to the Busway and the Oakdene bus stop…

Here’s the next stop along the old route heading south, just a couple of minutes walk from the first, and you can see the leisure centre in the background, on the right, behind the trees. So, it’s not far at all.

First Bus have a fleet of new buses in build for delivery in 2022 to further update Eclipse and improve the quality of journey but the current buses are more than satisfactory with a smartly designed interior…

… although I did wonder if, in view of that upcoming investment, whether the route maps displayed on the cove panels will be updated to include the new Busway extension.

I hope so, as it was impressive to see the ‘next stop displays’ and audio commentary had been updated to include the new stops.

The combined daytime frequency offered by routes E1 and E2 is every twelve minutes even on a Sunday. That’s great for busway originating passengers but every 24 minutes is not so good for passengers on the sections of route further south served by one or the other of the two routes. Hopefully as passenger levels improve the frequency can be increased. Weekday peaks already see an improved ten minute combined frequency with 20 minutely one each route.

I was impressed with the numbers I saw travelling yesterday afternoon, with eight or nine on each journey.

The Fareham and Gosport busway is a great example of what can be done to give buses priority and provide an excellent alternative to the car. It’s refreshing to see it hasn’t bothered with fancy guide wheels which some busways have unnecessarily complicated things with, and the infrastructure is still looking good nine years on, now joined by this much welcome extension.

Well done to everyone involved in its delivery.

Roger French

Next blog: Wednesday 8th December 2021

C

14 thoughts on “Now for a total eclipse in Hampshire

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  1. Thank you for this – I’m interested in your views on this ‘non-guided’ bus-way. I’ve been on the Dunstable bus-way and didn’t feel that the guide-wheels really offered any benefit; do you (or any other commenters) know if there are statistics about whether guided buses actually travel any faster? – or if there is significantly less land use? – or how much extra custom they generate compared to the Excel route?

    On the frequency issue of routes E1/E2, I agree that every 24 minutes is not going to attract many car users. Personally, I think every 7-8 minutes is the point at which people (certainly myself) are happy to turn up and wait rather than needing to check the time-table. It may be hard to justify commercially, but we do urgently need to get lots more people on to public transport, and government at all levels should at least be thinking about the issue. Perhaps a new ‘best practice’ for bus-maps could be to show routes with ‘every 7-8 minutes or better as a slightly wider line.

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  2. I seem to recall that the original E1/E2 timetables were every 10 minutes on each route, giving a 5 minute joint service, so every 12 minutes on the joint section is a huge reduction . . . surely C-19 passenger numbers have recovered sufficiently to at least timetable buses every 10 minutes on the joint section? In most places, that’s the minimum necessary for a high-frequency service.
    I’d estimate that, at the 5 minute frequency, the revised busway would reduce the PVR by 1, so staff costs down by (say) £70K pa . . . that puts the construction costs into a sort of perspective.

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  3. Guided bus ways can be squeezed into a narrower space than unguided ones. I think this is the only benefit.
    The bypassed sections of old route were congested roads with street parking at each side, so the bus route became single track with passing places!
    I think the new route will be much more reliable and this will have more impact than headline journey times. Possibly a lower PVR too.

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  4. Should have been part of the originally planned tram route which would have gone under the Solent at Gosport but the Eclipse is very good nevertheless despite the combined frequency reduction from the original 6 minutes . A while back my wife had to attend a function at a school near to a stop at Rowner and got an Eclipse bus back to Fareham and with a speedy transfer to a Solent 5 on the old combined 4/5 15 minute frequency and got home to Locks Heath nearly as quickly as it could have been driven by car.

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  5. Guideways allow a busway to be squeezed into a narrower space than otherwise.
    The bypassed section of route was a narrow road with double parking so effectively a single track route with passing places, like many of our busy roads!
    The new route will be much more reliable which is more important then the headline journey times.Maybe there will be a lower PVR too

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  6. The Cambridgeshire Busway is possibly where guided ways are used to the best effect. Without them I doubt that the high speeds buses can safely reach on there would be possible.

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  7. £40 million for the Okehampton branch had you pursing your lips about how awfully expensive it was, but £11 million for a whole kilometre of bus-only road is worth getting triumphalist about? Hmm.

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  8. Buses are for busways, hey. The rest of us outside the mets, can rely on DRT.

    I’m licking my lips at the amount of extra development we’ll be able to accommodate, and reduce the amount of unproductive recreational and amenity land, once we have reliable busways and accessible leisure centres et al. £11m for all those benefits, probably cheap at the price. 1950’s Iron Curtain, here we come. They’ve got to pay for our pensions somehow, haven’t they ?

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  9. Somweone says guided busways can be narrower. Not really true. The huge chunks of concrete mean they actusally need more rod space. If you need to kepa bus in s tight lane laser guidence is a better option

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  10. The main reason for guidance is the narrower track. In reality this is normally only required when using old rail alignments that are raised or below their surroundings. Hence embankments cannot be widened easily nor can cuttings be extended without major earthworks.

    Guidance can also support higher speeds, where a normal vehicle requires more leeway. There can also be an enforcement benefit from guidance.

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  11. As with the southern section of the Cambridge Busway, unfortunately limited to single-decks, which do not allow for sudden surges of passenger traffic (not to mention the views from the top deck for Enthusiasts). Pre-Covid many of the Eclipse buses were uncomfortably full, although many of us would welcome that sight again!. Whilst not an Engineer, surely a simple roadway must be a lot cheaper to build and maintain than a guided track and speeds maintained other than when passing? What happens, inevitably, when the concrete cracks?

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  12. Sort of a hybrid twixt a guided bus way and a bus only road?And now to stop motorists driving down it which they will as car crime means crimes against cars not the more common, and deadly,crimes by them.

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